Test the spirits

 

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“1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

This verse assumes that not all who claim to speak from God are actually from God. It is clear from the passage that not only do false prophets exist, but they are actively in the world trying to deceive the elect. The question then is how do we know if a prophet is genuine. We are told three things about them:

They do not believe in the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ (v2-3)

“2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”

The key point in this passage is that “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God”. This calls back to what is said in the first chapter: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us…” This is central to the message of the gospel. God became man. Those who don’t believe and confess this truth are not from God.

They are popular in the world because they have the same message as the world (v4-5)

“4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.”

Christians ultimately overcome the deception of world and its agents because we have Christ. We hear the voice of the Shepherd and can distinguish it from the sweet seductive voices of the wolves of this world. We are able to do this because “because (we) are strong, and the word of God abides in (us), and (we) have overcome the evil one ” – 1 John 2:14. In recent times a lot of worldly principles have sneaked into christian doctrine. We sometimes celebrate greed and selfishness in the name of blessing and empowerment and in so doing we neglect the material and spiritual needs of those who struggle in our midst. We need to go back and continually feed on God’s Word so that we are strengthened to overcome. The best way to recognize what is counterfeit is increased familiarity with the authentic Word of God.

They do not listen to authentic gospel as preached by the Apostles (v6)

“6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”

The “we” here I think refers to the combined witness of the Apostles and those to whom they are writing (and by extension all christians). It seems like a callback to Chapter 1: “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ”. We have fellowship with God because we listened and believed the witness of the Apostles. We in turn proclaim that gospel and whoever does not agree with that witness, that Jesus Christ our Lord left his throne in heaven to die for our sins so we can have life eternal, shows themselves to be false.

There are many different gospels being preached. There are many different people who all claim to be sent from God. But not all who claim to speak from God are actually from God. Let us draw near to God’s Word and test that what we hear is in line with Scripture.

Love One Another

1 John 3:11-24 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. (12) Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. (13) Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. (14) We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. (15) Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

(16) This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (17) If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? (18) Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

(19) This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: (20) If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (21) Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God (22) and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. (23) And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. (24) The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

What does is it mean to love one another as christians? We follow the ultimate example of Christ who shows us what love is: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers”(v16). If it wasn’t any clearer, the point is emphasized in the next verse: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”. I think these verses lie at the heart of this passage.

Love becomes more than just mere sentimentality instead it is how we act towards each other. Since Christ sacrificed all he had for our sake, we as his followers are called to do the same for our fellow brothers and sisters. In recent times, the call to be generous and to help each other materially is generally self-focused. If you want [money, prosperity, health etc] then be generous with your finances. This passage says: If you claim to have God’s love and are in Christ, then you will be generous.

I would also suggest that if we are truly generous and follow God’s commandment to love one another, it will show in what we ask for when we pray. And the Lord will give us whatever we ask, because what we ask will please Him and be in line with His commandment (v22-24). Its about a life truly transformed by the Holy Spirit so much so that our ambitions, dreams, hopes etc are all shaped by the gospel and stands in stark contrast to the what the world values. This is seen by how we are about to care for one another’s needs: both spiritual and physical.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:35

 

Children of God

1 John 3:1-10 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (2) Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears[a] we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (3) And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
(4) Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. (5) You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. (6) No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. (7) Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. (8) Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (9) No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. (10) By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

Are you a child of God? In this passage, we see what characterizes children of God. The references to “children of…” seem to point to who we follow or the one who leads us. The children of God are those who have been loved by the Father (3:1), who are looking forward to the coming of Christ (3:2) and hope in Him for their purification (3:3). Those who are children of God practice righteousness (3:7 and 3:10) and this is shown by how they love each other (3:10).

On the other hand, those who practice sin and makes a habit of it are not of God. “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (3:6). “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (3:8). This might seem very harsh but it almost mirrors Jesus’ statement in the book of John:  “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44)”.

What the Apostle John has been emphasizing from the beginning of this book is that those of us who received the word of life proclaimed by the Apostles (1:1-4), and are in fellowship with God(1:5-10) should live a life that is characterized by keeping God’s commandments(2:1-6) which is summarized by loving each other (2:7-17) and we should stay away from practicing sin but rather pursue righteousness (3:1-10). We do all this by the power of the anointing (2:18-29). The biggest take away for myself is that sin is not something to be trifled with and we should be very wary of making a habit of it. Also we can’t say we are practicing righteousness if we don’t consider how we love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Power of the Anointing

1 John 2:18-29 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. (19) They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (20) But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. (21) I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. (22) Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. (23) No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. (24) Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. (25) And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life. (26) I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. (27) But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. (28) And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. (29) If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

In studying God’s Word, we sometimes bring in our own understanding of what a particular word means and import this meaning into the text. The result being we force the text to say what we want instead of hearing what the author intended to say.  In this passage we have two very popular words in Christian circles, anointing and antichrist. But we need to understand how John uses these words and what he is trying tell his original readers and how that applies to us.

In the previous sections, John urges us to walk with God, keep his commandments, love one another and stay away from the temporal desires of this world. John also clearly distinguishes between those in the light and those who are not. Those in the light are cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ (1:7), have fellowship with God (1:6), have fellowship with one another (1:7), keep God’s commandments (2:5), are characterized by love for each other (2:9) and do not love the world (2:15). Those in the darkness are deceiving themselves (1:8), have no fellowship with God (1:6), do not have the truth in them (1:8), do not keep God’s commandments (2:4) and love this world (2:15).

In this passage, John again contrasts two groups of people. Those anointed by the Holy One (2:20) and the antichrists who started as part of the body of Christ (2:18,19).

The Anointed
The antichrists
They are the church
They came from the church and they show that they were never truly part of the church by leaving. (18,19)
The know the truth and have all knowledge (20-21) i.e Jesus is the Christ, the word of life through whom we have fellowship with God and eternal life
They are liars who do not know the truth
They deny Son (22-24)
They deny the Father (22-24)
They deny the truth that was heard from the beginning (24)
They will not be deceived because the anointing by God teaches them the truth, if they abide in what they have heard from the beginning (27-28)
They try to deceive the anointed (26)

We see here that all Christians who are part of the church of Christ have the anointing. It is the power of God that keeps us rooted in the gospel as it teaches us more and more about Christ.

When you confess that Jesus is Lord, you are experiencing the power of the anointing. When you recognize those who want to deceive you by denying the Son, you are experiencing the power of the anointing. When we cling to what we have been taught from the beginning in spite of pressures from the world to do otherwise, it is by the power of the anointing. When during Easter we proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection, it is by the power of the anointing.
I pray that we continue to experience the power of the anointing in our lives.

To love or not to love

1 John 2:7-17 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. (8) At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. (9) Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. (10) Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. (11) But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (12) I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. (13) I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. (14) I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. (15) Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (16) For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. (17) And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

To have fellowship with God is to have our sins forgiven by the blood of the Lamb and to step from the darkness into His Light (1 John 1:5-10). It is to obey his Word and hold on to His commandments (1 John 2:1-6). In this passage the Apostle John begins to tell us what that means. But he begins not by dazzling us with some new hidden knowledge but with an old commandment. An old commandment that shines anew because the light is breaking into the darkness (v.8). A commandment that should be what defines us as children of the God.

Love your brother. 

Seeing that he is writing to the church,  I take it that he means love your Christian brothers and sisters i.e all those in the family of believers (v.9-10). There are other passages that talk about how Christians should display love to non-believers and even to their enemies. But I think this is specific to the church family.

The language he uses is quite clear: If you hate your brother you are in darkness and blinded by the darkness (v.11). Loving your brother is what marks you as walking in the light. Loving each other as Christian brothers and sisters is a command. Not something we do because we feel like it, but a way of showing that we are indeed of the family of God. As we live as a community of believers there will undoubtedly be moments of friction among us, but what should mark us as different to the world is the genuine love that they see among us. Much more would be said about this later on in this letter.

But while we are commanded to love one another, we are also told not to love the world. And the reason is simple, all the desires and things of this world will pass away. Indeed the world as we know it will pass away but whatever is of the Father and whoever does the Father’s will shall last forever (v.15-17). Again the language is very strong and very clear: whoever loves the world does not have the love of the Father in them.

It is extremely sad that in recent times, the desire for the things of this world is used to lure people to church . God is presented as the gateway to getting all the things we desire: wealth, health and prosperity.  In focusing and obsessing over the temporal things we forget to nurture and grow the truly eternal things like loving our brothers and sisters.  We are encouraging people to love the world instead of encouraging them to love God and each other. As the scripture says: For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36). 

We can do all this because our sins have been forgiven and we know the Father who is from the beginning. We also do this because the Word of God abides in us which makes us strong and over comers of the evil one (v.12-14).

In this Easter period we must remember that because of Christ’s death on the cross, we are forgiven and have been brought into fellowship with God. He has called us from the darkness into the light. And he commands us to not love the world but to love each other, not being blinded by the darkness.

Keeping God’s Commandments

1 John 2:1-6 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (2) He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (3) And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. (4) Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, (5) but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: (6) whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

In 1 John 1:5-10, we were urged to walk in the light since the God we serve is the Light. We were reminded that in order to do that we should acknowledge our state of sin before Him and our sins will be cleansed by the blood of Christ if we confess them. In the beginning of chapter 2, John continues with this theme of joining in fellowship with God and walking in His Light.

To know God is to follow his commandments (v3).  Genuine repentance (If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness – 1 John 1:9) results in keeping God’s word.  We cannot say we know God and yet not keep his commandments (v4). What identifies us as people who know God and His love and who walk in His light is that we keep his commandments. In recent times where it is becoming increasingly unpopular to keep God’s word it is important that we remind ourselves of this. We must walk in the same way in which he walked.

Just when we think the task at hand is too daunting we have to be reminded that we have Jesus Christ. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.  When we fall and fail to keep His commandments the way we should, he is our advocate with the Father. As the modern hymn writers Keith Getty and Stuart Townend put so wonderfully into words:

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev’ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.

Because Jesus Christ has died for our sins and advocates for us before the Father, we are able to live a life that glorifies God as we follow his commandments and put sin to death daily in our lives. All Glory, Honour and Praise be to His Holy Name!!!

Fellowship with God

By receiving the message that the Apostles proclaim, we join them in fellowship as they are in fellowship with God.

1 John 1:5-10 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (6) If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. (7) But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (8) If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (9) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (10) If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

John continues from the previous passage where he encouraged us to join him and the other Apostles as they are joined in fellowship with God. He gives a summary of the message that they have heard and now proclaim to us. God is Light and in Him there is no darkness (v5).

He then expands upon the imagery of light and darkness and uses it as a means to start describing what it means to have fellowship with God. It means having fellowship with one another(v7). It means having our sins cleansed by the blood of Jesus (v7). It means acknowledging our sin (v8). It means confessing our sins to the one who can cleanse us from all unrighteousness (v9).

To have fellowship with God, who is the Light, is to first realize that we are sinful and lost in the darkness.  If we continue in the darkness (v6) and say we have no sin (v8 and v10), we are liars and deceive ourselves.  And the worst part is that we remain in the darkness. Truth is acknowledging that we are sinful, unrighteous and lost in the darkness.  Truth is acknowledging our state before God who cleanses us from all unrighteousness.  Truth is having fellowship with God and walking in the light.

 

Joining the Apostles in Fellowship

1 John 1:1-4 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— (2) the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— (3) that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (4) And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

In this introduction to his letter, John refers to two groups of people. “You” referring to the recipients of the letter (and by extension those of us reading) and “We” probably referring to himself and the other apostles. They are the ones who have seen the manifestation of that which was from the beginning. They have touched the word of life and testify to it.

The main call in this introductory statement is to join them in fellowship as they are already joined in fellowship with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ (v.4). They proclaim a message. Not a new message because it has been there from the beginning(v.1). Not a message which has no basis in reality because they have looked upon it with their eyes and touched it with their hands(v.1). A message about the word of life, that became flesh and through whom we can obtain eternal life(v.1-2). And as we listen to them and believe in the one they proclaim, we join with them in fellowship as they are in fellowship with God – Father, Son and Spirit(v.3-4). This will make their joy complete.

In a world where we are always eager for the next new thing and trends change everyday; it is reassuring to be reminded that our gospel is an old, unchanging message that has been there from the beginning.
In a world of subjective truth and fake news; it is encouraging to know that the gospel we have is real and centered on a real historical figure and proclaimed by witnesses who testify to its truthfulness.
In a world where people believe that there are multiple ways to fellowship with God; it is important to know that the only way we can have fellowship with God is by holding on to the Word of Life – Jesus the Christ – as proclaimed by the Apostles.